(In)Fighting For A Cause

Graphic by Leigh Luna

Fighting for justice must undoubtedly remain a priority, but we should try, as much as possible, to not allow the injustices of the world to harden us to the extent of behaving in toxic ways to the people with whom we claim community. Like intersectionality, worthiness of empathy shouldn’t be ranked on a scale. I totally get why empathy isn’t a person’s first priority when confronting injustices, but we gain nothing by seemingly aiming to misunderstand one another.

We should remember, especially in our communities within the larger global movement of feminism, how easy it is to ignore someone’s humanity and relate to them as the representative of an ideology.

Rookie Mag’s theme for May is “Growing Pains.” Please head over there to read my latest essay on intersectional feminism, online conflicts and the lessons I’ve learned about how we hold each other through the difficulties of our politics. I am really proud of this.

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Thank you, Tavi Gevinson. Your patience and thoughtful critique while editing this really challenged me in the best ways.

Thank You, Dear Reader.

I spent this past Saturday morning at the Johannesburg Family Gathering, a monthly event organised by Ashley Whitfield at the Museum Africa that centres on children and families. (The details are on the poster and I encourage everyone to get their babies involved in cultural activities outside of school.) This time, we got together for story time with Mpumi’s Magic Beads.

One of the best parts about what I do is engaging with little readers and their parents. I am so grateful each time a child let’s me know that they have hair like Mpumi or when parents share what this story means for their families. I’ve had a mom tell me that the book is her son’s favourite nightly read and that something about the rhyming in the book and reading it aloud together has also helped with his speech issues. I’ve had a kiddies hair salon owner reach out because there’s a little girl who came in with my book and requested the style on the cover. I’ve had mom’s send me videos of their children reading. Each time this happens, my heart absolutely beams to know that this book is doing what I hoped it would do in the world. Little children love this story just as I loved so many stories when I was a child. Beyond that, little children feel at home in this story, and isn’t that just the best thing?

I’m always in awe when I see children who are super confident with asserting themselves with adults and peers, alike. I always make a mental note that I would love to be the kind of parent who nurtures that in a child. I think it’s quite a remarkable thing to see a child who owns their space and articulates themselves boldly. The portrait above was drawn by one such a special little girl. While I was “performing” the story, she was reading along loudly with me and afterwards everyone drew some self portraits and she came over to give me hers. I was so touched by her gift, I’m going to be framing it soon.

The part that will always stay with me is how her mother shared with me that ever since she got the book, she draws herself with this hairstyle. We also spoke about how she will be challenging the school’s hair policy using the book as an illustration of the kind of cultural awareness that the school should be seeking to foster in how they move forward in creating an inclusive environment for all their learners. Considering that this book is partly inspired by my own academic work in the sleight of hand employed by schools: using neutral language in hair codes of conduct yet clearly being discriminatory in implementation – I am really all for parents furthering that conversation, especially at a young age so less children have to suffer the trauma of being vilified by the school system for the way they look.

So, the portrait here, by a very special girl is a reminder of all the people who continue to give this dream wings. I have always wanted to do my part to make it just a little better for children in this world and I’m so grateful that this work, by Masego and I, is adding a little sprinkle of magic, confidence and self-love in your lives. You keep my heart full.

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Thank you to all the parents and guardians who reach out in person and online to share with me how the story continues to move in your lives, beyond the book.

Thandiswa Mazwai’s birthday concert

KingthaDay - Neo 2
Photographed by Neo Chikane.
KingThaDay - Neo 1
Photographed by Neo Chikane


KingThaDay1 - Pontsho.jpg
Photographed by Pontsho Pilane

It was absolutely magical to be in the presence of hundreds upon hundreds of women gathered to celebrate and sing and dance and bask in the brilliance of King Thandiswa Mazwai, her talented musicians and all of the women on stage that day. As we stood on stage, a portrait of mama Winnie Madikizela Mandela watched over us beautifully. It felt so good to just be and so good to be safe, without worrying about harassment of any kind. I really hope we have more of these in future. Have a look at this EWN video to see some concert footage and some interviews.

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Thank you for sharing your birthday with me, Thandiswa. You’re glorious.

SA Library Week with ‘Help 2 Read’

It is SA Library Week (19 – 23 March 2018) and I have been doing my part by reading Mpumi’s Magic Beads to primary school learners. As you know, my book is about some girls who are also school pupils and I hope that my audiences this week will be able to relate to that special detail.

I started the morning at Kgololo Academy in Alexandra where I read for two Grade 2 groups. What a special little school. Some of the kids were really into the story so, they would mimic my gestures (which I loved because they’re all so adorable!) so I incorporated it into how I tell the story from now on. Thank you, learners!

As part of the ‘Help 2 Read’ organisation’s reading tour, I visited Iphuteng Primary School in Alexandra. I had so much fun with this vibrant group of learners. My bit of improvisation from earlier worked really well because I don’t believe in making children sit dead still while listening to a story. Let them wiggle and giggle and listen with their bodies too. It makes learning memorable, I think. I certainly believe that this was memorable. They had a lot of energy and I had the best time with them.

Next stop. Diepsloot Primary School!

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Thank you, Kgololo Academy, Help 2 Read, Iphuteng Primary School.

Come through, menstrual cup. Bye, pads & tampons.

You may be familiar with this. One moment, I’m calm and unbothered. Then, I become a sudden mess of cravings and nastiness as a week of non-stop Kit Kat and Triple Choc Sundae snacking (I don’t even like sweets, abeg!) ensues while fighting back the urge to swing on everyone. On sight. All the time. On top of that: break outs, bloating and general discomfort all over my body. From placing a folded towel beneath me at night to sometimes wearing two pairs of underwear in the attempt to combat sleeping-and-leaking, the highly hormonal and messy time that is my period gets bloody annoying. And although the troubles are many, I still choose pads over tampons, any day.

Scenes. Legs open on the toilet, pulling on the blue-green string of my full tampon slowly, slowly with just the right amount of tension so that it slides out gently and doesn’t immediately plop out and swing into whatever is closest (which is usually the inside of the bowl). Or, when I’m doing the pull while my bladder’s super full and I’m already impatient and I need to pee and it’s taking so long and then just a little… Actually. You don’t need to know. I just don’t like tampons.

Of course, the worst of all is when this biological regularity just completely slips my mind and I’m caught unaware with neither of the things and I have to improvise with tissue until I find the nearest place to buy a full pack because, as Muneera pointed out on Twitter, retail places haven’t yet had the lightbulb moment of selling them in singles. Wow, pls.

It’s in these moments that I realise how bloody expensive pads are and the guilt of their impact on an already polluted planet eats at me, month by month.

Enter, a menstrual cup.

I bought mine for R530 and word is, it will last me for about 3 years. Here’s the math:

  • +/- R45 x 12months = R540 a year. So: R540 x 3years = R1 620.
  • +/-15 pads x 12 months = 180 pads a year. So: 180 pads x 3 years = 540 pads.

Not only does my decision save me money, it also saves the planet just a little because my +/-180 used pads per year among all of our (global, our) +/-180 used pads per year end up in landfills and sometimes in the sea. You can just imagine adding tampons to the equation. How bloody awful?

For insertion: a C-fold.

You only need two things to successfully wear a menstrual cup: 1) clean, clean hands and 2) being at ease with getting very intimate with your vagina. I recommend that you squat fully with both knees bent to put it in. I tried the method of standing with one leg placed on a chair and a full squat just works better for me. I wet the cup, part my labia and push the cup inwards and upwards until I feel it’s open. One option, is for it to sit lower than a tampon so I only push it high so it unfolds and then I use the stem to pull it down low. In the pictures, I’ve cut my stem because it shouldn’t ever stick out of your vagina. It’s a little longer when you buy it. The other option is to wear it up high so that it cups around the opening of your cervix. I’m actually finding that that may be the key to non-spillage. I’m also getting used to the fact that I always feel like peeing after I have been handling it. It’s weird and interesting.

There are several ways to fold your cup for insertion. Above, is the C-fold which happens when you fold it in half twice. Then, below, there’s the pushdown where you push it down on one side and squeeze it together.

For insertion: a pushdown fold.

There’s also the 7-fold which happens when you fold it in half and then take that half and fold it down to (loosely) resemble the number 7. The menstrual cup is manufactured out of medical grade silicone so it isn’t exactly as malleable as origami but, you get the picture.

For insertion: a 7-fold.

I’m in between experimenting with the folding methods because it’s important for the suction to set in a specific way so that the blood doesn’t bypass it and end up leaking onto underwear. Once it’s in, there’s some twisting involved too squeezing a finger in and around the thing just to make sure that it has opened fully and is sitting in place. I haven’t perfected this yet and I realised that I need support. My first thought was to use panty-liners but that obviously just defeats my entire mission, doesn’t it?

The reusable pad clips beneath your underwear.

Enter, reusable pad.

I bought mine for only R30 and wearing it with my cup has been a great, comfortable and guilt-free experience. Of course the goal is to no longer need it and I will get to that point, one day soon.

Both the cup and pad are comfortable. The cup is available in two sizes and yours is determined by your age and history of child birth. It can be washed with unscented soap (I use plain, glycerin soap) once a day and rinsed with drinking water in between use. It can also be boiled in water after one’s mentrual cycle and stored in the cotton bag provided. The pad is also easily washable.

You’re welcome to further do your own Googles for any other questions you may have. I know that one of them may be “Well, where can I buy it?” and I can’t tell you that here because [redacted brand names] would have to run me my money. I’ve just given you some of my experience because I recommend it and I think we could all do a bit to make the planet just a little greener.

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Thank you to Alyx, whose tweet about the menstrual cup initially made me go “Hmm…”

Podcast: Poetry & Jazz

Photographed by Monique Stander. (I took my other ear stud out because it was hurting me with the earphones on.)

Last night, I was invited to SA FM’s The Mash Up, a show about poetry and music collaboration hosted by Naledi Moleo. When the producer of the show asked me which musician I would like to collaborate with, I immediately thought of Mpumi Dhlamini, a talented multi-instrumentalist and (fun fact) my uncle. Music is my go-to device in my work and it just made sense to be accompanied by an actual Jazz man.

I would say, “Mpumi this poem will be better with saxophone, like a Fela Kuti vibe” or “something Miles Davis-y” or he would just listen to the words and just start playing. The whole point of the show is to encourage spontaneous collaboration so, no rehearsal. Just a few words about the theme of the poem and sometimes, just starting with the poem and meeting in the middle.

I really enjoyed this experience. I usually get nervous about collaborating with musicians because it could easily throw me off but Mpumi and I clearly work great together. We have to do a show together or something one of these days. I mean, the host even said that our collaboration has been her favourite in the history of the show. What a compliment!

Below, the podcast has been split into parts and I think that’s great because you don’t have to hear adverts, news and cricket updates. Enjoy and let me know what you think.

Part one.

Part two.

Part three.

Part four.

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Thank you for the invitation, Monique Stander!